Birthname Hilary Ann Swank
Birthdate July 30, 1974
Birthplace Lincoln, Nebraska, USA
Residence Malibu, California, USA / Pacific Palisades, USA
Spouse Exhusband Chad Lowe and now John Campisi
Height 5′ 6″ / 1.68 cm
Hilary Ann Swank, with Spanish and Native American heritage, was born 30th July 1974 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Hilary’s father was employed by the airborne National Guard and, while Hilary was still pre-school, took his family – wife Judy, a secretary and later an executive, and son Dan (eight years older than Hilary) – to live in Bellingham, Washington. Interestingly, one of Hilary’s grandfathers was born and raised in Iowa, just two hours drive from Falls City, Nebraska, the small town where Brandon Teena, whom the actress later on portrayed in Boys Don’t Cry, went to start a new life. On top of this, Hilary was actually born in the same hospital as Brandon in in Lincoln, Nebraska!
Soon, her father would change jobs. Deciding there was money to be had dealing in trailers, when Hilary was six years old, he shifted the family into a trailer-park and began life as a travelling salesman. Attending Sehome High School in Bellingham, young Hilary would excel at sports, particularly in the gym and pool. She competed in the Junior Olympics and the Washington State championships in swimming, ranking 5th in the state in all-around gymnastics.
Hilary was discovered as a child by producer Suzy Sachs, who coached her in acting. When she was mere nine years old, Hilary made her first appearance on stage starring as Mowgli in The Jungle Book, and thereafter became heavily involved in her school and community theater programs. Hilary was even named “Best Junior Actress” by the Bellingham Theatre Guild! Sadly Hilary’s childhood was not all fun and success. She has later on said that she was rather miserable as a child and was picked on by her jealous classmates, whom once sent her a letter which read “You think you’re so cool, but you’re not; you think you’re so pretty, but you’re ugly; you think you’re so talented, but you suck.” Obviously, young Hilary was left heartbroken.
“I remember feeling lonely and not very happy most of the time, and I’m sure there’s a connection there to why I chose acting. Escaping into a character was fun, and it gave me something to do. I swam and did gymnastics and things like that too, but for the most part I would do school plays and local repertory theater, which got me out of my head and gave me purpose- all of which it still does.” Hilary Swank escaped in her dreams of bigger things to come and sat by the water with her dog. “I dreamed of adventure, of being an actress, of escaping, of catching the frog that I heard outside my window. I dreamed I was destined for big things. I don’t know if that is because of my optimism or naiveté.” Hilary often speaks of the lake nearby the trailer park with much fondness. It still bears much importance to the actress. “The town we lived in is an hour and a half north of seattle. It rains a lot there, but it’s so pretty; it’s lush like a rain forest. Our trailer park was within walking distance of this lake, and that was my savior. During the warm months I used to float in that lake, and it would just drown out everything. I would look up at the sky and dream for hours, so I had this great relationship with the lake. My mom knew that I would always be down there, from the second the sun came up until it went down, and even after. And I remember getting off the school bus the first sunny day and jumping into that lake and it taking my breath away because it was still so cold- I just wanted to get in it so badly.”
Hilary says that although their money situation was tight, she never felt her family was exactly poor. Instead, Hilary’s parents were absorbed in relationship problems. “For a kid, that triggers lonely feelings and the idea that you’re not being listened to. I had to take care of myself”, Hilary said later on. She lived in Bellingham with her family until her parents separated when she has 15. Judy Swank had just lost her job. Supportive of her daughter’s desire to act, she moved the two of them with only $75 and a car between them to Los Angeles, California, where they lived out of their car until Judy saved enough money to rent an apartment. Indeed, Hilary holds no secrets about her humble beginning. “For the first few days we just lived in our car. I didn’t see it as anything sad or bad- I was about to live my dream. But I’m sure my mom was freaked out. Eventually, I got in touch with this girl who lived in South Pasadena who I’d met on an earlier trip to California, and she said, ‘We’re moving out of our house. As long as you’re not around during the day when the real estate agents show it, you can stay there.’ There was no furniture, but my mom and I bought air mattresses, and we’d sleep there at night and get out during the day.”
Shortly the luck was on their side again. Judy found employment and Hilary an agent. She enrolled in South Pasadena High School, then Santa Monica City College to eventually drop out of high school altogether, completing her education by mail and with a succession of tutors. She also helped pay the rent with the money she earned appearing in television programs in the early 90s, such as Harry and the Hendersons, Evening Shade and Growing Pains (opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, whom Hilary befriended). “I was absolutely ecstatic. I was working as an actor,” says Hilary, grateful of any job to come.
Hilary’s first movie role was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) as Buffy’s Valley Girl best friend. The film was considered a flop when it came out but obviously, it later on found its audience as the TV series shot for stardom a couple of years later. It also meant more exposure to Hilary herself! She found a regular role in an ABC series Camp Wilder, which unfortunately ended up being a one season failure. And in 1992 Hilary Swank met het future husband, Chad Lowe, brother of the infamous Rob. During the time Chad was starring as HIV-positive Jesse McKenna in another ABC series, Life Goes On (for which he’d win an Emmy in 1993). They met at an industry party and remained more or less inseparable from then on, arranging their filming schedules so they could spend as much time together as possible. “I know it could sound sickening, but it was love at first sight. We’ve been together ever since. I never imagined myself meeting someone so early in life. I’m so fiercely independent, and I grew up alone, so I was fine being alone. I can’t imagine life without him. We have a great friendship. It’s nice to share your life with someone who can understand what you’re going through.” Of Hilary, said Chad: “I saw her and saw our future in her eyes. She had the most beautiful eyes I’d ever seen. They speak volumes about her character.”
Swank next appeared in a TV movie named Cries Unheard: The Donna Yaklich Story (1994). The same year also saw her in her very first starring role as Julie Pierce in The Next Karate Kid, a follow up to the popular movie from 10 years before. The film gained more name for the fresh faced actor, who was already considered a talented star in the making and was interviewed for several teen magazines, such as 16 and Teen Machine. After completing The Next Karate Kid, Hilary took a bit of time off to come back to the spotlight in 1996 with several more TV and rather cheesy horror films, such as Kounterfeit, Terror in the Family and Sometimes They Come Back… Again. In 1997 she continued working hard making name for herself in low budjet films, including Dying to Belong, The Sleepwalker Killing and Heartwood, of which most went straight to video. Hilary next moved on to another disappointment in the short-lived TV series Leaving LA, which only lasted for six episodes.
Professionally, the year would end in further disappointments in the TV series department. Having lost out in auditions to play Lucy Hatcher in The Practice (Marla Sokoloff took the part), she won a role in the popular Beverly Hills 90210, joining the show in October 1997 as Carly Reynolds. Sadly the producers were, for some strange reason, not satisfied with the direction of Hilary’s character so just after three months of joining the series, Carly and Hilary were written out of the show. Yes, Hilary Swank was fired from Beverly Hills 90210. She was obviously devastated and in doubts of her career as an actress. “Sometimes you just have to take what comes your way and try and grow as much as you can from that opportunity. I know that all my experiences contributed to my playing Brandon Teena”, Hilary said later on of this time of her life.
On a brighter note, Hilary Swank’s personal life with Chad Lowe was blooming as the couple decided to tie the knot after 5-years of spending time together. On 28th September 1997 Hilary and Chad got married. They also starred together in Quiet Days in Hollywood (1997).
Hilary Swank’s career was about to take a huge U-turn and the whole 90210 thing turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Two weeks after being sacked from the series, she auditioned for a part in Boys Don’t Cry (1999). She fought blood and tears for the role of Brandon Teena and indeed, won the lead role after hundreds of other actresses (and non-actresses!) had been considered and rejected over the course of three years. Hilary cut off all of her hair and lived as a boy for a month to prepare for the role and told Kimberly Peirce, the director, that, like her character, she was also 21 and hailed from Lincoln, Nebraska. But she was fibbing, and when Peirce later confronted her with the lies, she winningly responded: “But that’s what Brandon would do.” She also worked closely with acting coach Larry Mills, a former pupil of the renowned Stella Adler, to prepare for her dream role. “What drew me to Brandon was the sheer joy he had living his life the way he wanted to live it. When somoeone’s living their dream, and not conforming to what society wants them to be, they exude joy. I think people were magnetised to that in Brandon and that’s why he had so many girlfriends,” Swank says. “He loved to be a boy and I loved that he followed his dream and had the courage to be himself.”
The results of Boys Don’t Cry were simply outstanding and rocketed Hilary Swank’s name to everyone’s lips, and to the stars. In fact, she was so good that no one was surprised when she beat heavyweight contenders Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Annette Bening to win the Best Actress Oscar and Golden Globe in 2000.
After the success and critical acclaim that Boys Don’t Cry brought her, Hilary Swank moved on to a completely different acting league compared to her humble start as a failed TV actress. She decided to make serious efforts in expanding her acting range, appearing in a Chad Lowe directed short, The Audition (2000) with Brittany Murphy and taking on a supporting role of the redneck Keanu Reeves abused housewife Valerie Barksdale in The Gift. Hilary next took on a starring role in The Affair of the Necklace (2001) as Jeanne St. Remy de Valois, an orphan who dreams of returning her family to their former wealth and status. In order to do this, she has to pull a very challenging con job which fails as she inadvertently acts as a catalyst for the French Revolution. Hilary was also seen as Detective Ellie Burr in Insomnia (2002), holding her own in the company of such heavyweights as Al Pacino and Robin Williams. She also starred in another one of Lowe’s short films, The Space Between. In 2003 Hilary appeared in The Core and 11:14, the first seeing her as a space hero, and second as an executive producer and having a smaller but very funny role as a store clerk with retainers.
During these times Hilary spoke about the pressures of being an Oscar winner and how people were expecting her life to take a huge leap career wise. But Hilary noticed that it was not so easy to find a role as challenging and rewarding as Boys Don’t Cry. However, she would soon take on three very important roles as 2004 was to be one of the most important years for her career to date. First she pulled an impressive performance as the infamous Alice Paul in the HBO film, Iron Jawed Angels. It took her back to 1912 as a smoking, flirting, forthright and self-possessed agitator for women’s rights and saw her act opposite Angelina Houston. This fearless and masterful performance added more merits to Hilary Swank’s belt as she received nominations for the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Hilary next returned to her roots, the stage, travelling to North Carolina, to portray Annie Sullivan in the award-winning The Miracle Worker. This run was intended to be in preparation for an advance to Broadway, but production problems and then Hilary’s film schedule forced a postponement. She next packed her bags for South Africa to star in Red Dust. The film itself went straight to DVD but Hilary’s powerful portrayal as Sarah Barcant should not be missed. On the set of Red Dust Hilary Swank met the second love of her life, Karoo Swank Lowe, a tiny stray dog. Karoo was named after the location of the shooting of the film – ‘Karoo’ is South African for countryside. “I found Karoo while on location with Red Dust – totally flea-ridden, starving, ticks in ears, the whole thing! So I brought her back with me. When I find a stray animal, it doesn’t matter where it comes from if it means saving its life”, Hilary said. Indeed, she is known to be quite the animal lover, owning two more dogs, a cat, a huge bunny named Luna and two parrots. Besides showing her love for animals as a pet owner, Hilary is also a dedicated vegetarian and supporter of animal rights. She even helped to rescue trapped pets after the 9/11 attacks.
Next she caught the attention of Clint Eastwood, who cast Hilary Swank in her most famous and undoubtably one of the most challenging roles to date as she took on the boxing gloves of Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby. “This new role challenged me to my core. That’s what I love as an artist: to be able to push myself to my limit and try and push myself past it, to try and break through it. It’s where my passion lies.” Hilary’s performance was absolutely masterful, both physically and emotionally as she portrayed every range of emotion possible and trained for months for her role as a boxer. She proved her abilities as an actress beyond doubt and won her second Academy Award for the magnificent performance. “I don’t know what I did in this life to deserve all this. I’m just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream. I never thought this would ever happen, let alone be nominated. And a working actor, for that matter. And now, this. I thank the Academy. I’m eternally grateful for this great honor”, said Hilary during her speech.
After completing work in Million Dollar Baby, Hilary took some time off from the acting spotlight, modelling for Calvin Klein and representing Estee Lauder and doing charity work. Unfortunately, Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe announced plans of separation in January 2006 but had hopes of working through their troubles. Although they had been photographed together several times looking happy and smiley, in May they announced that they had filed for divorce. Shortly after Hilary appeared in a cover story for Vanity Fair magazine, speaking of Chad’s substance problems and how that played part in the break up. “I don’t want to make it seem like that’s the sole reason; there were other factors. But that just kind of blew it open; it made me look at things a lot deeper. It takes two to make something work or not work. I’m a person with my own faults and troubles. In the end, it just didn’t work, but I would never look back on this relationship as failed. I look at it as 13 and a half years of success.” Hilary travelled to India to do volunteer work and get back to the basics of life, and find her own identity again after the end of the long relationship with Chad. In December 2006, Swank confirmed that she was dating John Campisi, her agent.
The future of Hilary Swank looks very promising with several exciting movies coming up. She recently expanded her range as the femme fatale Madeleine Linscott in the Brian De Palma directed The Black Dahlia and will next be seen in Freedom Writers and The Reaping. She is currently filming P.S., I Love You in Ireland opposite Kathy Bates and Gerard Butler and is in talks of appearing in Robert Altman’s next film. On top of this, Hilary is one of the most beautiful actresses, inside and on the outside. She was recently announced to be the muse of Guerlain’s new fragnance, appearing in print ads and commercials. Despite being one of Hollywood’s most respected young actresses, Hilary Swank never forgets where her true priorities lie. She sees charity work as being very important to her, whether it is travelling to a different country and working on the field or helping stray animals. Unquestionably, we can expect amazing more things from her in the future.
Last updated on March 6, 2011
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